Review: Amazon’s The Boys Envisions A World With Corrupt, Power-Crazy Superheroes
It has been a relatively slow start for original programming on Amazon Prime Video, but it seems things might soon take a turn for the better for the online retail giant’s answer to Netflix. Till now, Prime Video has struggled to put out a truly ubiquitous hit the likes of front-runners on competing platforms, but that looks set to change with The Boys.
Based on a comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the show envisions a world much like that of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, if a bit more grounded. It offers a satirical take on conventional superhero stories, flipping the script to make the superheroes abandon their sense of morality for personal gain while still maintaining appearances in the public eye. At its core, the show may very well be about absolute power and how it tends to corrupt absolutely. However, the power here isn’t just of a “super” nature – it is that as well as a combination of politics, media, and enterprise.
The show has only been around for a week and is already making waves in its core demographic. As of this writing, it is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has a cool 9/10 rating on IMDB. Showrunners Eric Kripke of Supernatural fame and Seth Rogen must be pleased, as they should be.
The Boys doesn’t simply deconstruct superhero tropes, as many would claim. It is as much an estimation of what our society would be with powered individuals in it as it is a satirical commentary on conventional superhero stories the likes of those told by Marvel and DC.
The Seven, the show’s group of elite superheroes, seems to be a satirical take on the Justice League. Homelander, the team’s leader is essentially Superman with the American flag for a cape while Queen Maeve is more or less a Wonder Woman clone. The similarities end there, though. The Seven are owned by Vought, a corporation that seems to be concerned only with monetizing their abilities through merchandise, billion-dollar movies, and ultimately, military contracts.
Right off the bat, the show addresses something almost all superhero movies seem to ignore – the threat of collateral damage in a world where powered beings are allowed to doll out justice, even with accountability. When The Seven’s speedster, A-Train, literally runs through protagonist Hughie Campbell’s girlfriend, allegedly on his way to stop a bank robbery, a media cover-up follows, with A-Train falsely claiming that she had stepped into the middle of the street. Vought then approaches Campbell with a $45,000 remittance cheque in exchange for his silence.
Behind it all is a sinister secret that the corporation will do anything to protect, resorting to blackmailing and taking innocent lives. The core storyline is quite engaging on its own, but it is only made better with clear references to tired comic book tropes that continue to plague the medium, such as the unapologetic objectification of female superheroes or the monetization of equal rights movements.
The show rarely holds back. There’s plenty of blood, gore, and strong language to go around, with some instances clearly meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. There’s a smattering of humor to be enjoyed as well, but only of the dark variety, which often leverages the contrast between the way the people view heroes – as saviors, even gods – and the shocking reality.
Heroes losing their way, or turning to the Dark Side, if you will, isn’t a new concept by any means. Even those as seemingly infallible as DC’s Superman have been envisioned as tyrannical villains, such as in the Injustice storyline. What makes this show’s take so intriguing is that even as it paints The Seven as the antagonists, it refuses to make them irredeemable, and vice versa for the titular team of antiheroes. There is no pure evil to be defeated here and certainly no unadulterated good to vouch for. The world of the The Boys, much like our own, isn’t black and white.
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